Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Maus I and II: Autobiographical graphic novels turn comics into serious literature


Comics emerged in the late 20th century onto the big screen, and exploded into franchise epics in the 2000s.

Before Marvel and DC, and Heroes on TV, there were comic writers and illustrators exploring the genre in much the same way Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote took journalism and used narrative elements to recreate the story of reported events.

Comics are the known for their ability to tap into storytelling through drawing, often revealing stories focused on humor, science fiction or fantasy, but not known for their literary or social impact in prestigious circles of the literary world.

Art Spiegelman, however, helped to change that with his two-part story about his father’s experiences as a jewish man during World War II that also incorporates an open and honest look at who his father was in his later years, and the struggles he had accepting his father and the relationship he had with him.

The graphic novels follow two plotlines, one that takes place during World War II, and one that takes place while Spiegelman is collecting the information about his father’s experience in recorded interviews in the 1980s.

Spiegelman won a special Pulitzer Prize for Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History in 1992 and was nominated for several other literary awards.

Spiegelman uses the comic genre to tackle the horrors of the holocaust and explore what living through that trauma can do to people.

Maus I takes the reader up to the moment before Vladek Spiegelman arrives at the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began shows the reader the experiences Vladek survives in his 10 months at the camp.

The story is really about survival and loss and the unspeakable evil that people are capable of emitting. The artwork assigns different nationalities and races different animals. Jews are mice, Poles are pigs, Nazis are cats which seems to metaphorically represent the hierarchy of the human food chain in the framework of Nazi Germany.

Maus I and II is a great way to read about history and its impact on individuals for anyone, but especially for people who are not fond of reading novels or biographies, but still would like to read a good, well-crafted true story about World War II.

While these graphic novels have been on the library shelf for more than 20 years, and the genre has definitely evolved in that time, if you have not read them, then read them now.